After viewing the Mercy for Animals video and getting over the initial outrage that I felt, and many of you have expressed, it made me think of all the daily suffering that occurs on dairies all over the U.S. I know that there are people out there who are writing off this incident as isolated, but my experience has shown that such abuse is not an anomaly.
Many of you may be surprised to learn that most of the animals who come to our shelters do not arrive here as the friendly, outgoing and playful beings visitors meet during our sanctuary tours. Most tremble with fear, others practically run up walls to get away from humans or even cry out in anguish when they first arrive. While their physical wounds heal, some of the animals never quite recuperate mentally and emotionally from the abuse they endured before their rescue, and we don’t put them in a position to have to interact with people, unless it is necessary for their care — and even then, we only expose them to caregivers they are accustomed to being with.
Once here, most of our residents start to trust and bond with humans, and for the overwhelming majority, this comes naturally. Animals who are lucky enough to have been born here (of mothers arriving in late term pregnancy), or come to us at a very young age, are often the most trusting and affectionate. Making an animal fearful of humans requires prolonged and egregious abuse. The fact that so many animals arrive at our shelters terrified of humans has proved to us that abuse is a routine part of most farm animals’ lives and no animal comes out of the industry, if they do at all, completely unscathed. After all, fear is not the response you get from a domesticated animal who’s been treated kindly.
Sadly, the types of abuses that traumatize animals are systemic in the dairy industry. I have spoken to large animal vets, and even people who run small dairies, and have been told that you need to shock downed postpartum cows with prods or kick them in order to get them up, or they will just lay there and die. This is not only barbaric and unacceptable, but also completely unnecessary. Here, at Farm Sanctuary, we have a harness attached to our tractor that can lift downed cows to their feet. There are humane ways to get a cow to stand up, yet shock prods are standard in the industry – probably only because it’s simply easier for hurried workers. Shocking farm animals with prods is every bit as cruel as kicking and punching them, but this happens every single day on farms and our society turns a blind eye.
Pancho and Filipe, two sweet calves rescued by Farm Sanctuary in March.
If you’ve ever spent any time around these gentle animals, it is horrifying that someone would go to the extremes we witnessed in the Conklin Dairy video when dealing with them. We saw at least one man take out his intense anger on these innocent animals, many of whom were unable to move to get away from him. But while the perpetrators’ actions were beyond cruel, they are merely symptomatic of a system that views farm animals as commodities in a society that offers little, if any, legal protections to ensure their welfare. This video forces us to bear witness to the consequences of this extremely flawed system of our own creation, but as painful as it is to watch, the animals are the ones who suffer the most.
At our New York Shelter, we recently gave refuge to six beautiful Holstein calves and one, Amigo, looks almost identical to the calf at the beginning of the video who is being stomped and kicked. Amigo was left to die, tied to a tractor, sick and starving in Pennsylvania, but now after weeks of care and rehabilitation, he is finally growing into a sweet, happy and frolicking boy who is deeply loved by everyone who meets him. That calf on the Conklin’s Ohio farm is no different from Amigo, who just wants to be loved and cared for, and was unfortunate enough to be born into an industry that disregarded his well-being.
Teddy (front) and Amigo (back), two of the calves we gave refuge to in March, frolic in the pasture.
In other parts of the video, we see calves beaten and thrown because they would not take a bottle or it became difficult for workers to tube feed them. These animals are tiny newborns and likely were sick because they were taken away from their mothers and not allowed to get the vital nutrients they needed from their mothers’ milk.
We have rescued pregnant cows who have given birth at Farm Sanctuary. Their babies thrived and had a different look about them – a look of confidence from being able to stay near their mothers, nurse at leisure, and frolic without a care in the pasture. The calves in the video are not carefree, not able to nurse from their mothers and look frightened – just like the six calves we rescued not long ago, bringing home the fact that this happens everywhere, not just at the Conklin farm.
The dairy industry, by its very nature, is cruel. Taking babies away from their mothers hours after they are born, discarding male dairy calves like trash, keeping cows in a constant cycle of impregnation, birthing and milking, preventing animals from having access to the basics of a natural life, and subjecting them to rough handling is unconscionable, but commonplace, and for that reason alone, people rationalize that it is okay. It remains to be seen whether we’ll be able to bring the abused calves and cows from the Conklin video to safety, but we must never lose sight that while we don’t personally know the animals who are still trapped and suffering on farms everywhere, they are all living, breathing individuals, deserving of our kindness and compassion.
P.S. – As I was posting this, we received word from the Union County Humane Society that the perpetrator originally arrested in this case, Billy Joe Gregg, has been charged today with one count of improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle, a felony of the fourth degree. Please stay tuned for more updates as this case unfolds.
Top photo: Amigo at Farm Sanctuary.